Larry Brilliant

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Dr. Lawrence (Larry) Brilliant
Larry Brilliant discusses the successful World Health Organization (WHO) smallpox eradication program at the TED (conference)
Larry Brilliant discusses the successful World Health Organization (WHO) smallpox eradication program at the TED (conference)
BornMay 5 1944 (1944-05-05) (age 76)
Template:Country data US - Detroit, Michigan, USA
ResidenceTemplate:Country data USA
Fieldsmedical doctor, epidemiologist, technologist, author and philanthropist
Alma materMPH - University of Michigan
M.D. - Wayne State University
Known forone of the leaders of the successful World Health Organization (WHO) smallpox eradication program.

Dr. Lawrence (Larry) Brilliant is a medical doctor, epidemiologist, technologist, author and philanthropist. Brilliant, a technology patent holder, has been CEO of two public companies and other venture backed start ups. He is best known as one of the leaders of the successful World Health Organization (WHO) smallpox eradication program.


Born in Detroit, Michigan (May 5, 1944), he received his undergraduate training as well as his MPH (Masters in Public Health) from the University of Michigan and his M.D. from Wayne State University. He moved to California for his internship at the Pacific Medical Center, and developed thyroid cancer from which he recovered. Brilliant is board certified in preventive medicine and public health.

In 1969, a group of American Indians from many different tribes, calling themselves Indians of All Tribes occupied the Alcatraz island in San Fransisco. A call went out for doctors to help a pregnant woman there give birth and Brilliant joined their occupation as unofficial doctor.[1]

After the US government forced the Indians of All Tribes off Alcatraz Brilliant became a media darling which lead to a movie company casting him in Medicine Ball Caravan—a sequel to the hit Woodstock Nation—playing a doctor in a film about a tribe of hippies who follow the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, and Joni Mitchell.[2] The cast was paid with airline tickets to India. Brilliant and some others cashed their tickets in and rented a bus to drive around Europe, which then turned into a relief convoy to help victims of the 1970 Bhola cyclone in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan).

The civil unrest stopped the relief caravan so he spent several years in India studying at a Himalayan ashram with Neem Karoli Baba (a Hindu sage) from whom he received the name Subramanyum. Later at his guru's insistence he began working as a diplomat for the United Nations. After about a year Neem Karoli Baba told Brilliant to eradicate smallpox which he would spend the next ten years doing. He was one of the leaders of the successful World Health Organization (WHO) smallpox eradication program that in 1980 was able to declare the certified global eradication of smallpox virus.[3]

When he returned to the United States, he became a professor of international health at the University of Michigan as well as starting numerous charitable and business ventures. He spent the first half of 2005 as a volunteer helping out in the tsunami in Sri Lanka and working in India with WHO in the campaign to eradicate polio.


  • December, 1978 – Co-founded and was Chairman of the international health nonprofit Seva Foundation. Seva's projects in Tibet, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Tanzania, Mexico and Guatemala have given back sight to more than 2 million blind people through surgery, self sufficient eye care systems, and low cost manufacturing of intraocular lenses. One important contribution of his was his helping to set up the Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, India.
  • 1985 – He co-founded, with Stewart Brand, The Well, a prototypic online community that has been the subject of multiple books and studies. Time magazine said, "Well was a huge hit, a precursor of every online business from to eBay."[4]
  • 2005 – He was awarded the TED Prize, granting him $100,000 and 'One Wish to Change the World'[5] which he presented at TED in February 2006. As his prize nominator summed up, "'Dr. Brilliant' is a name to live up to, and he has."[6] His one wish that he presented at the conference was, "To build a powerful new early warning system to protect our world from some of its worst nightmares."[7]
  • 22 February 2006Google Inc. appointed him as the Executive Director of, the philanthropic arm of Google.[8]


Brilliant currently lives with his wife Girija and has three children Joe, Jon, and Iris Brilliant. Girija holds a PhD in public health administration and is an equal partner in many of her husband's enterprises. Co-founder of SEVA, she was instrumental in the World Health Organization's smallpox eradication program.


Brilliant acted as an extra in the 1971 Bollywood movie Hare Rama Hare Krishna, which depicts hippie culture. He said, "When shooting for the song sequence 'Dum Maro Dum' [which glorifies smoking marijuana], Dev Anand was looking for certain types of foreigners..."[citation needed]


  1. Hoge, Patrick (24feb2006). "Larry Brilliant: Doctor Looks to Use Technology to Aid Global Health Care". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2007-07-26. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. Harriet Rubin (2000). "Dr. Brilliant Vs. the Devil of Ambition". Retrieved 2007-07-26.
  3. "Smallpox". WHO. 2000. Retrieved 2007-07-26.
  4. Taylor, Chris (Monday, Apr. 21, 2003). "Will You Buy WiFi?". TIME. Retrieved 2007-07-26. Check date values in: |date= (help); External link in |publisher= (help)
  5. Zetter, Kim (2006-02-23). "Brilliant's Wish: Disease Alerts". Retrieved 2007-08-01. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. "Larry Brilliant: TED Prize wish: Help stop the next pandemic" (Streaming Video). TED (conference). July 2006. Retrieved 2007-07-25. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. Bruno Giussani (March 23, 2006). "Larry Brilliant: Can the Internet help stop pandemics?". LunchoverIP. Retrieved 2007-07-25.
  8. "Philanthropy Google's Way: Not the Usual". NY TIMES. September 14 2006. Retrieved 2007-07-25. Text " auhtor+Hafner, Katie" ignored (help); Check date values in: |date= (help); External link in |publisher= (help)

External links